The university teaches a vast range of subjects pertaining to all branches of the humanities, social science, technology, medicine, science, fine arts and performing arts.
The university comprises 3 Institutes,viz. Institute of Agricultural Sciences(IAS), Institute of Medical Sciences(IMS) and Institute of Technology(IT-BHU),14 Faculties, 124 Departments, 1 DBT Interdisciplinary School of Life Sciences (one of the three in country), 4 Inter-disciplinary Centers, a constituent college for women and 3 constituent schools. It has 7 centre of Advanced Studies, 10 Departments under the Special Assistance Programme and a large number of specialized Research Centers. Notable of the departments in Faculty of Science include Departments of Physics,Zoology,Geology, Botany (All the 4 are UGC Centre of Advance Studies) Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Chemistry. The Faculties of Science, Commerce and Management studies are regarded among the best in the country. B.H.U. was the first university in the country to start the management degree course i.e. the M.B.A. way back in 1960's.
Besides academic buildings and sports facilities, included within the campus are:
Another campus of the University i.e. the Rajiv Gandhi South Campus at Barkachha, in Mirzapur district,U.P.,covering an area of 2,700 acres (11 km²) is being built.
Four off-campus Degree Colleges of the city of Varanasi are affiliated with the University. Apart from the traditional style concrete buildings, the campus features open spaces, greenery and peacocks, the national bird of India, which are found roaming around almost every part of the university.
Besides the proposal of Pandit Malaviya and Annie Besant, there was another scheme for the establishment of a Sarada Viswa Vidyalaya at Varanasi which was sponsored by a number of prominent Hindus interested in the study of Hinduism under the auspices of the Maharaja of Darbhanga, Sri Rameshwar Singh Bahadur. However, the Maharaja of Darbhanga agreed to extend his support to the Hindu University scheme after having been assured of the support of the Government of India. A society under the name, "The Hindu University Society", was soon formed and registered in December, 1911 with Maharaja Sir Rameshwar Singh Bahadur as its President and Sir Sundar Lal, a Judge of the Allahabad High Court, as its Secretary. Its office was opened at Allahabad on 1 January 1912. The then Government of India had required that a sum of rupees fifty lakhs must be collected before the scheme could be put into effect. By the beginning of the year 1915, this target was achieved. Another pre-condition set by the Government of India was that the Central Hindu College should become a part of the University. Annie Besant, Dr. Bhagwan Das and their fellow Trustees of the Central Hindu College agreed to hand over the institution to be made the nucleus of the proposed University. The charge of the Central Hindu College was handed over to the Hindu University Society on 27 November 1915.
The Banaras Hindu University Bill was introduced in the Imperial Legislative Council in March, 1915 by Sir Hartcourt Butler. The Bill was referred to a Select Committee and it came up along with the report of the Select Committee for final reading before the Imperial Legislative Council. The Council passed the bill on 1 October 1915 and the same day it received the assent of the Governor-General and Viceroy of India which made it an Act. On 4 February 1916 Lord Hardinge, the then Governor-General and Viceroy laid the foundation stone of the University. A series of lectures which have come to be known as the University Extension Lectures were delivered on the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8 February 1916 by distinguished specialists like Sir J.C. Bose, Dr. PC. Ray, Dr. Harold Mann, Prof. Sam Higginbottom, Mrs. Annie Besant, Prof. C. V. Raman among others. Mahatma Gandhi who had just returned to India from South Africa and had come to Banaras to attend the Foundation stone laying ceremony addressed his first public lecture in India on 6 February. The closing functions were held on 8 February 1916, on the day Vasant Panchami.By a Notification published In the Gazette of India on 25 March 1916 the Banaras Hindu University Act of 1915 was brought into force from 1 April 1916. Dr. Sir Sundar Lal was appointed the first Vice-Chancellor.
The University started functioning from 1 October 1917 with the Central Hindu College as its first constituent college. In July, 1918 the College of Oriental learning and Theology was opened and in August 1918, the Teachers' Training College. The first University examinations were held in 1918 and the first Convocation on 19 January 1919. The Chancellor of the University, Maharaja Sir Krishnaraja Wadiyar of Mysore who had come to preside over and address the Convocation, also performed the opening ceremony of the Engineering College Workshop buildings. An Artisan course was started on 11 February 1919. Thus the Engineering College was the first to start functioning in the University campus and within a couple of years it started attracting students from all parts of India.
Though the name of the university includes the word "Hindu," the university has always been accepting of the various religions of its members, including students and faculty. A message on its website says:
"India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of the different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony. It is my earnest hope and prayer that this centre of life and light which is coming into existence, will produce students who will not only be intellectually equal to the best of their fellow students in other parts of the world, but will also live a noble life, love their country and be loyal to the Supreme ruler".
The Banaras Hindu University Library system is the largest University Library System in India. Presently the Banaras Hindu University Library System consists of Central Library at apex and 3 Institute Libraries, 8 Faculty Libraries, 25 Departmental Libraries, with a total collection of over 13 lakh volumes to serve the students, faculty members, researchers, technical staff of fourteen faculties consisting of 126 subject departments of the university.